By Stephen Mayne, seven year veteran of News Ltd in Sydney and Melbourne


The Sunday Herald Sun’s
new editor, Simon Pristel, will do well emulating the sales growth
achieved by Alan Howe over the past 11 years and probably produce a
more interesting newspaper at the same time.

Pristel started in
journalism on the same day as Crikey – January 9, 1989 – in what
remains arguably the largest cadet intake in Australian journalism
history when 29 of us were blooded in Melbourne together.

Pristel was on The Herald
and for the first few months was led by then editor Eric Beecher, the
new Crikey boss, before he resigned in mid-1989. I was on The Sun,
but occasionally Pristel and I would share the bus out into the eastern
suburbs (just like Virginia Trioli, he’s from the Donvale/Mitcham area)
and he struck me as incredibly serious and ambitious.

While
other cadets fooled around in cadet classes, the worst offender being
Rupert Murdoch’s current New York-based spinner Andrew Butcher, Pristel
was oh-so-serious, but clearly very bright.

He quickly immersed
himself in learning every facet of the craft and I can’t recall ever
seeing him in the pub, which in some ways makes his ascension a little
surprising given the blokey News Ltd culture. He certainly won’t p*ss
in the sink during conference like Col Allan, get done for drink
driving like Peter Blunden, or projectile vomit after a budget booze up
like the Telegraph’s editor Dave Penberthy.

By early 1999 I was completely out of my depth as Col Allan’s chief of staff on The Daily Telegraph
and Pristel was Sydney correspondent for the News Ltd national group.
It was quite embarrassing that Pristel would wander over mid-morning
and know more about what was going on than I did.

News Ltd
traditionally doesn’t promote people who haven’t been inculcated into
the Sydney culture, but it would be surprising if Pristel became known
to unimpressive executive chairman John Hartigan during this period.
However, he would have come onto Lachlan Murdoch’s radar in recent
years and his ongoing influence over News Corp’s Australian operation
should not be discounted.

News Ltd is clearly grooming Pristel to replace Peter Blunden on the daily Herald Sun,
but unlike Alan Howe, it will be Blunden’s time of choosing. Just like
John Howard, Blunden has enough runs on the board to go when he’s
ready, but he’s not really the management sort so that could be many
years away.

Alan Howe might have worked for News Ltd since the
1970s, but Blunden has also notched up 30 years with the company and
this was after following his dad into the Murdoch empire. The likes of
Piers Akerman and John Hartigan are from a similar News Ltd vintage.

Howe’s removal makes Piers Akerman’s recent letter to The Australian
talking up his performance even more interesting. Howe and Akerman are
very close family friends, so was this a last desperate attempt to save
Howe by Akerman or was it a hamfisted chest-beating exercise that
contributed to his demise?

Check out the official announcement
here. It proves the old adage that News Ltd editors rarely get sacked
and leave in a huff. Rupert likes to keep them in the tent and Howe
will join a long line of former editors wiling away their time in
“management” or occupying some lower editorial rank, including Rocky
Miller, Ian Moore, Piers Akerman, Steve Howard, Campbell Reid, Alan
Farrally, Peter Wylie, Martin Beesley, Des Houghton and Mark Day.

The
genuine walkers who have never returned comprise a much shorter list
and include Eric Beecher, Steve Harris (after a brief stint in
management) and new SMH editor Alan Oakley.

Peter Fray

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